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Posted on Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

'Natural' toymaker finds success in Ann Arbor (minus the plastic, commercial, digital toys)

By Janet Miller


Palumba/Camden Rose owner Judy Alexander started the company because she couldn't find the kind of non-toxic, non-plastic toys she wanted for her kids.

Janet Miller | For

Adjacent to the railroad tracks on Felch Street a few blocks from downtown Ann Arbor, off of a pot-holed parking lot and through a single white door marked only by a narrow wooden sign hides a wonderland of toys.


Dolls made from wool felt, made by the Peruvian co-op. There are no plastics or toxic materials in any of the toys.

Janet Miller | For

Soft dolls with yarn hair and alpaca sweaters, hardwood helicopters, kits to make tepees fill the tight space of Camden Rose and Palumba. The rush that comes from Christmas makes it feel like Santa’s workshop. The holiday season sees sales quadruple.

Still, the warehouse and storefront are out of sight. “Most people don’t know we’re here,” said owner Judy Alexander, “but they’re so glad when they find us.”

There is no plastic here. No videos games or action figures. No Ninjas or Barbies or Let’s Rock Elmos. Instead, it’s dolls made from wool felt, yo-yos fashioned from fine wood, flowing silk scares that turn little girls into princesses and play kitchens made from cherry, curly maple and walnut.


Wool yarn, used to make many products

Janet Miller | For

Palumba is the company’s retail name, Alexander said, while Camden Rose is the manufacturing side, which produces more than 200 eco-friendly products: wooden toys and teethers, play kitchens, play food knotted from wool yarn, and play household items such as a cherry wood ironing board and a maple washboard. They also make Waldorf toys. Palumba, which sells to online and brick and mortar locations, has a small Ann Arbor storefront for retail operations.

Palumba sells Camden Rose products along with lines from other suppliers, some of them cottage industries, offering close to 2,000 items. Alexander's wholesale base includes 240 outlets, from a small doula company to a regional California chain.

These are high-end toys. The top-selling simple hearth kitchen retails for $350. But that hasn’t stopped sales from growing every year, even with the uncertain economy, as parents and grandparents jump aboard the eco-friendly movement. “People are more aware of what they’re buying, they’re more aware of natural items,” Alexander said. The warehouse/retail space has doubled to 2,000 square feet, Alexander said.

All but a few of the toys here are made in the United States and all are made of natural materials, Alexander said. A handful of items come from Canada or from a women’s cooperative in Peru, with their woolens such as baby blankets coming from Europe.

Camden Rose has grown every year since founder Jason Gold started it eight years ago. While Alexander ran the Palumba end of the business, then called Arbor Kids, the two merged and Alexander became sole owner five years ago. Palumba outpaces Camden Rose in terms of sales volume, and 90 percent of Palumba’s sales come from outside of Ann Arbor, with sales as far away as Australia and Qatar.


The play kitchens are all made of hardwood. This one is made of cherry finished with a beeswax polish.

Janet Miller | For

Caroline Dimmers lives in Hastings, two hours west of Ann Arbor, but was in town recently for a doctor’s appointment. When her daughter, who lives in Seattle, heard that her mother was coming to Ann Arbor, she asked Dimmers to make a stop at Palumba.

Alexander said Camden Rose and Palumba were a response to not being able to find safe, non-toxic and natural toys for her young children. “I buy organic food so why not buy organic things for my home,” she said. “But I couldn’t find anything locally. I didn’t want plastic dolls. Plastic dolls don’t warm to the touch. Our dolls feel good when you hold them.”

She expects her companies to continue to grow and plans to continue introducing new products. The companies have four part-time employees, which become full-time during the holidays.

Locally, Camden Rose products are sold at Palumba as well as Downtown Home and Garden and Lexi’s Toy Box.

Janet Miller is a freelance reporter for



Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 3:28 p.m.

Check out the toys that the store at the Rudolf Steiner School sells (Newport Road) Waldorf toys are the exact type of toy that children enjoy. Not all are made in the USA, but they have a really good network of suppliers.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 4:23 a.m.

Very cool. Thank you for the story. Now parents have even more options.


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.

I think the toys look wonderful! Very classic. However, I have yet to meet a child that really likes to play with these type of toys. I almost feel as though they are more for the adults to display than the kids to really play with.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 6:24 p.m.

Lindsay I agree with you. Our kids have very few "toys" (we don't even have a TV in our family room and no cable) rather they make up games and activities. But they have never been interested in these type of rag dolls or wooden ones, they would rather a stuffed animal be their doll or our family dog! :). Just my own experience. I'm certain July is lovely and her toys look nice.

Lindsay Passmore

Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 8:01 p.m.

I am so happy to see this article! I know Judy and can tell you she not only has lovely toys, but she is also a very generous and kind person. As for children playing with the toys, my children, a daughter and a son, loved these things when they were young. I totally disagree that they are more for adults to display than for kids to play with. To get kids to play with imagination-based toys, the thing that's important to do turn off the tv. These toys don't buzz, talk, or serve as a portal for video games, movies, and music. In order for kids to use their imaginations, they have to be given opportunities to awaken that capacity, which as you know, doesn't happen when we are surrounded by gadgetry.


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 6:56 p.m.

We took a lot of caution letting our child play with certain toys. No barbies because they promote a bad image of women and yes, no videos or PS games either until she was old enough know not to get hooked on them and to know what is real and what is not. Where were you 13 years ago when I searched the internet looking for natural products and no nonsense toys. I too really hope you make it in this biz. Good luck. Wish I was a grandma, I'd be looking seriously at that kitchen play stuff.


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 4:13 p.m.

What are the store hours for Palumba? I somehow missed them, and I'd love to do some final Christmas shopping there soon. Thanks!


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 4:17 p.m.

Their web site <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> doesn't seem to list hours but does say: 221 Felch Street, #2C Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103 Toll Free: 866-725-7122 Outside the U.S. telephone: 734-995-5414 email: and that 80% of their items are made in the US


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 4:09 p.m.

I am curious, where does the felt come from? Is it tested for hazardous chemicals? Same for the yarn. The wood looks treated, what has it been treated with? Has it been approved for use in children's toys?


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 2:12 a.m.

Contacting the owners and having the conversation with them seems the wise and logical thing to do if you want answers to these questions.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 1:16 a.m.

I agree with Clara. This is a very important point. Someone could check with the owner and find out. In a town like A2, it would make sense to have your products checked for chemicals, etc. Many people are not fully aware of the level of chemical pollution in all kinds of materials. Kids will be eating these things, or at least being near them and playing with them and then putting fingers in their mouths, etc. If these folks are taking adequate efforts to cover this, they should be glad to say so. I admire their efforts and their work and am so glad to see American made stuff being available in A2. I hope this checks out.


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 10:55 p.m.

It says it twice, not several and saying it is so does not make it so. There is nothing in the article or her web site indicating they are in compliance with the CPSC. Nor do they say where they get their raw materials or where their 20% comes from. Just take her word for it.


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 10:15 p.m.

It states several times in the article that these are natural and eco-friendly toys for children. They also make Waldorf toys. The wool does not look treated and even if it were I'm sure it's eco-friendly and safe for children since that's the entire point of their company.


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 7:56 p.m.

Her own website says that 20% of her manufactured stuff comes from outside the US. My concern is that a small company like this, buys its supplies from somewhere, even in the US but since the supplies are not intended for children what actions are being taken to make sure they are safe? Are her products third party tested? Is she registered with the CPSC as a small batch manufacturer?


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 6:53 p.m.

It only takes one in this bunch to make a hardline effort to make it look like she bought the stuff in China and is selling as made in the USA. Grinch.


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

This is absolutely marvelous and I truly wish them the best of luck in their business. Now I know of a place to go to purchase items for the younger set. Thank you.


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

Made in the USA. WONDERFUL :)

Freddy Rosenthal

Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

What a cool toy company! Without this article, I might not have discovered this Ann Arbor gem. Thanks, Janet, for bringing it to my attention. While I was looking at the picture of the hardwood kitchen, finished with beeswax polish, my 2.5 year old daughter came up and so &quot;Woah&quot; with a smile on her face.


Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

Very nice. As a small scale custom toymaker myself ( a sideline to my more serious bronze sculpture activities) it's always a pleasure to see alternatives to Chinese crap ( that'll possibly wind up on a consumer safety warning list) or multiple batteried marketing shlock for the latest Pixar production.